I rarely use the word regret. Not because I’ve never felt it—but because it’s a complex of feelings, not simply regret. I may feel guilty or wish something had gone differently. If I feel guilty, it’s usually because I infringed on someone else’s values. If I regret something, it is usually rooted in not keeping a promise to myself or because I didn’t follow through on something I truly, deeply, wanted to do.
So, now that we have looked a bit closer at clarifying the meaning and impact of regret, what do we do next? Right now is as good a time as any to take an inventory of our experiences. Here are a couple of mine:
- I regret staying at a job years longer than I should have. I didn’t know if I would be okay on the other side. I played the, “Why am I giving up a real job?” song. I didn’t have the experience to know I’d be fine. (In fact, I'm much better on the other side.) It was a matter of bravery. Though I wouldn’t have guessed that my life would look like it does now—I trust that not knowing all the pieces is okay. There are other versions of me out there and I’m open to them. It’s a more forgiving existence now that I know I’m making it up as I go along.
- I regret staying with a project too long. Sometimes projects seem right up my alley and I get so excited. I go along with it even when 50% through it I have a pit in my stomach and my intuition is telling me to get out of it but it feels too late and I have to see it through. There’s a lot of learning that happens from pushing through, but really, I regret not pulling out of something that ultimately didn’t make any sense for me to follow through. The emotional rent was too high.
- I regret choosing ego over fiscal intelligence. I was invited to participate in a prestigious trade show, an excellent opportunity from a marketing perspective. But after all was said and done, it was not worth the $25K investment. I wish I had thought it through first, because I would have realized that the bet was not going to go my way.
- My biggest regret was trying to start a company with a partner rather than striking out on my own. Maybe misery loves company? I’m bummed that I didn't do it on my own and just hire him as an employee, because that's what he was. I tried to give him more responsibility in the hopes that he would step up to the plate, but it never happened.
Now, what to do about it? Take action! Choose a meaningful next step from my "3 Rs of Regret":
Repair: Maybe it feels better just saying your regret out loud. Go one further and make good on a promise you didn’t keep or an action that went awry.
Regroup: Apologize to yourself. Give yourself a do-over. Right now.
Reframe: Make a commitment to learn this time, and act accordingly when a similar situation comes up the next time. Figure out if it's your values that are getting in the way or someone else's. What is one sign you can see earlier on the next go?
I would like to open this up to a wider conversation, so please leave your stories in the comments. What do you regret? How has it affected your work/life balance?